Kapler reflects on late congressman Lewis

July 19th, 2020

Honoring John Lewis has genuine significance for Giants manager Gabe Kapler, though preparing his ballclub for Thursday’s season opener at Los Angeles might seem unrelated to the Georgia congressman and civil rights icon who died recently at age 80.

Kapler’s parents raised him and his older brother, Jeremy, in southern California’s San Fernando Valley amid an atmosphere of activism. Now 81 and 75, respectively, Michael and Judy Kapler preached nonviolence, but they weren’t afraid to do so in a loud voice. Gabe was keenly aware of their participation in various marches and protests. He recalled that his parents attended at least one speech delivered by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., the towering leader of the civil rights movement.

“The concepts of racial equality and social justice were deeply embedded in my household,” Kapler said via text message Saturday, one day before the Giants received a break in their Summer Camp at Oracle Park. “My parents believed in peaceful protest, but they were certainly fiery.

“… I knew from a very early age that anything with a racist, sexist or other bigoted edge was unacceptable. I grew up understanding that diversity of all kinds makes us stronger, and I learned to affirmatively seek that out.”

Kapler’s worldview obviously extends beyond the foul lines and outfield dimensions. He understood the impact of Lewis’ life as well as his death.

“I think what stands out to me about him was his recognition that the fight against injustice is a constant one, one that he gave his entire life to,” Kapler said. “He recognized the difficulty of standing for what is right and yet did so with grace and dignity. I believe his legacy is most felt in his encouragement for all of us to act, to speak out, to ‘make some noise and get in good trouble.’"

Kapler’s identification with Lewis and his message explains why the wall in front of Kapler’s desk in his Oracle Park office is dominated by a stirring, framed photograph of King standing in front of the throng at the March on Washington on Aug. 28, 1963, when he delivered his “I Have a Dream” speech. Lewis, who regarded King as his mentor, also addressed the crowd that day. At 23, he was the afternoon’s youngest speaker.

“The role of the manager has changed in my opinion,” Kapler wrote. “It has never started with the first pitch of the game, but now more than ever, I see the job as bringing together a group of people to work together towards a common goal. Typically, the magnitude of the goal of a baseball team pales in comparison to the one Dr. King was and other civil rights activists are still working towards, but the concept still resonates. In July of ’20, the clubhouse can become a forum for the exact discussions they spoke so passionately about, and their words [and the words of Rep. Lewis] are [unfortunately] still relevant and necessary now.”